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March Sees Mixed Drought Fortunes

Drought continued to punish western Oklahoma throughout March, even as eastern sections saw additional relief. Similar to February, Interstate 44 served as a rough demarcation line between the above normal totals to the southeast and paltry offerings to the northwest. The news was dire for northwestern Oklahoma, where precipitation deficits that began in early October 2017 strengthened drought impacts. Fire danger rose to critical levels almost daily. Continued damage to the winter wheat crop was reported in western Oklahoma, along with low or empty stock ponds, desiccated soils, and struggling pastures. Severe weather reports were sporadic, but somewhat tame for a springtime month in Oklahoma.

 

According to preliminary data from the Oklahoma Mesonet, the statewide average precipitation total was 1.86 inches, 1.18 inches below normal and the 41st driest March since records began in 1895. Most areas of the state finished below normal except the regions just to the southeast of I-44. East central Oklahoma finished with its 34th wettest March on record at 0.42 inches above normal, while the Panhandle was 1.32 inches below normal to rank as their 18th driest. The Mesonet site at Hooker recorded no precipitation for the month, and 25 additional sites recorded a half-inch or less. Cookson led the state with 5.97 inches. The first three months of the year were just a bit below normal statewide, but the various regions across the state had remarkable differences during that period. The Panhandle had its second driest January-March on record with an average total of 0.32 inches, 2.38 inches below normal. The southeast saw an average of 16.28 inches, 5.29 inches above normal, to rank as their eighth wettest. The Mesonet sites at Eva and Hooker received 0.06 inches through that time. Broken Bow recorded 13.38 inches. Again, I-44 served as a rough dividing line between areas with 10 inches or more to the southeast and 3 inches or less to the northwest for the first three months of the year. Dating back to Oct. 1, 2017, eight Mesonet sites in northwest Oklahoma had recorded less than 2 inches of rain for that six-month period. Boise City and Kenton received less than an inch.

 

The month was 2.2 degrees above normal statewide with an average temperature of 52.6 degrees, the 33rd warmest March on record. The Mesonet’s top temperature reading of 95 was recorded at three different sites on the 23rd. Kenton owned the lowest reading of 9 degrees on March 6. Freezing weather was somewhat uncommon with the Mesonet site at Medicine Park spending just 1 hour below freezing, while Eva spent 119 hours at 32 degrees or lower. The first three months of the year were a tenth of a degree below normal with a statewide average of 43.3 degrees.

 

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, most of the area southeast of I- 44 was drought free by the end of March. Drought continued to intensify across the northwestern half of the state, however. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the total area of the state in drought decreased from 66 percent at the end of February to 48 percent at the end of March. The most intense category of drought – the Drought Monitor’s intensity scale slides from moderate-severe-extreme-exceptional, with exceptional being the worst classification – increased from zero percent at the end of February to 15 percent at the end of March. That intensification occurred in the far northwest through much of the Panhandle.

 

The April temperature and precipitation outlooks from the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) did not bode well for drought improvement across western Oklahoma. The precipitation outlook indicated increased odds of above normal precipitation across far northeastern Oklahoma, but also below normal precipitation across far western portions of the state. The picture for April temperatures was unclear, so equal odds of above-, below- and near-normal were expected. That led to an April U.S. Monthly Drought Outlook that predicted drought as persisting or intensifying across western Oklahoma. No drought development was expected across eastern Oklahoma, however.